Myanmar’s Catholic bishops call on country’s military to respect places of worship

“We strongly demand respect for life, respect for the sanctity of sanctuary in places of worship, hospitals and schools,” read the bishops’ statement

The Catholic bishops’ conference of Myanmar has issued a statement calling on the military not to attack places of worship, hospitals, and schools.

“We strongly demand respect for life, respect for the sanctity of sanctuary in places of worship, hospitals and schools,” read the bishops’ statement released on June 11.

In the wake of the reported attacks on churches and villages that displaced thousands of people, the Church leaders said “human dignity and the right to life can never be compromised.”

The bishops also called on religious leaders around the world to pray for peace in the country.

A recent report noted that the military has been responsible for nearly 20,000 arson attacks, including the burning of dozens of places of worship in the Kayah and Chin states, since the 2021 coup.

The statement came after the country’s 17 Catholic bishops that comprise the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar convened from June 7 to 10.

“As the CBCM stands for justice, peace, reconciliation, it strongly demands all concerned to facilitate humanitarian access to suffering and internally displaced people in order to provide them the basic humanitarian assistance,” read the Church leaders’ statement.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s armed resistance dismissed an unprecedented call by the junta to surrender as a “sugar-coated offer” by a regime that must pay for its war crimes against civilians.

In a statement on Monday, the junta announced that all members of the armed resistance will be allowed to return to civilian life if they willingly lay down their arms.

The junta blamed “political adversaries and disagreements in ethnic affairs” for Myanmar’s internal armed conflicts, which it said had hampered development, and called for “unity” to heal the nation.

Various armed resistance groups, however, said that surrender to the junta is “impossible,” citing the devastation it had wrought on the country since the Feb. 1, 2021 takeover.

The junta’s invitation to surrender came less than a week after local watchdog group Data for Myanmar issued a report that found that junta troops and military proxy groups had burned down 18,886 homes across the country between last year’s coup and the end of May 2022.

According to the report, villages in Sagaing were the hardest hit by the junta, with 13,840 houses destroyed, while those in Magway region and Chin state came in second and third.

It said that 7,146 homes were set on fire in May alone – the highest monthly figure since the coup.

Legal experts and analysts told RFA on Monday that the widespread use of arson against civilians amounts to war crimes and said the junta must be held accountable for its actions.

According to Thai rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, authorities in Myanmar have killed 1,937 civilians since last year’s coup, mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests. – with additional report from RFA

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